Romans 2:9-10 Gentiles or Greeks? Is this another error in the King James Bible?
I always learn things from the questions people bring up about the King James Bible, whether they are sincere Bible believing Christians or a Bible agnostic who doesn't believe that ANY Bible in ANY language IS the complete and infallible words of the living God.
One such question was raised by a Christian man who seems to be a Bible believer. His name is Conradt E. and he posts at one of the Facebook forums - “I am however still waiting for a response from ANYONE (please!) why the translators of the KJV translated the word 'Hellén' (Greek) as gentiles ('ethos') in Rom 2:9,10; 3:9 and 1 Cor 10:32.
Why are you all avoiding this question? It is the fourth time I'm asking the same question and all I am getting is people asking me further questions.” [End of Conradt's comments]
I think Conradt has a legitimate question here. So let’s take a look at this particular Greek word he is concerned about and see if there is any legitimate reason why the KJB translators (and many others too, as we shall soon see) translated the Greek word ελληνος as “Gentile” instead of “Greek” in certain passages. As Conradt points out, the usual word for Gentile is ethnos.
There are two different Greek words being discussed here. Ethnos is used in the New Testament some 163 times and has various English equivalents. The King James Bible translates this single word “ethnos” as Gentiles, people, nation, nations, and even as heathen.
A simple look at the NASB complete concordance (I have a hard copy here in my study) shows us that the NASB has likewise translated this single Greek word “ethnos” as “Gentiles” 93 times, “nation” 31 times, “nations” 37 times, “pagans” 1 time and “people” 1 time. Likewise the NASB has translated other Greek words like Elleenis as BOTH “a Greek” and “a Gentile”.
In Mark 7:26 the KJB tells us “The woman was A GREEK, a Syrophenician by nation”. The Greek text is ην δε η γυνη ελληνις.
Yet the NASB translates this as “Now the woman was A GENTILE, of the Syrophoenician race.”
And this same Greek word is used again in Acts 17:12 “Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were GREEKS, (των ελληνιδων γυναικων) and of men, not a few.”
Yet here the NASB translated the same Greek word as “Greeks” that it translated as “A GENTILE” in Mark. 7:26.
The NIV complete concordance 1990 edition shows that they have translated the Greek word ελληνος as “Greeks” 14 times, “Greek” 5 times, “Gentile” 4 times and “Gentiles” 2 times.
The Greek word itself MEANS BOTH!
Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon 1968 page 536 defines the word ελληνος as meaning 1. Greeks, and 2. Gentiles, whether heathens or Christians, opposed to Jews. Another definition listed is “pagan”.
Likewise Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1886 page 205 defines the Greek word ελληνος as meaning 1. a Greek by nationality. and 2. in a wider sense the name embraces all nations not Jews that made the language, customs and learning of the Greeks their own…so that where Elleenes are opposed to Jews, the primary reference is to a difference of religion and worship.”
Thayer then goes on to list New Testament passages where this second definition applies and among them are the Romans 2:9-10; 3:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:32 alluded to by brother Conradt.
In like manner A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich 1957 on page 251 defines the Greek word elleenis as meaning 1. A Greek, and 2. A Gentile.
And on the previous page 250 they define the typical Greek word ελληνος as meaning 1. a man of Greek language and culture. And 2. In the broader sense, all persons who came under the influence of Greek, i.e. pagan culture. GENTILE, PAGAN, HEATHEN. (caps are mine)
Not only does the King James Bible sometimes translate this word as GENTILES when in contrast to the Jews in places like Romans 2:9-10 - “Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the GENTILE; (ελληνος) But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the GENTILE” (ελληνι)
But so too do the following Bible translations - William Tyndale 1534 - “of the Iewe fyrst and also of the gentyll.”, the Great Bible 1540 - “and also of the Gentyle.”, Matthew’s Bible 1549 - “and also of the gentyll.”, Mace’s N.T. 1729 - “and also to the Gentile.", Whiston's New Testament 1745 - "and also to THE GENTILE", John Wesley's N.T translation 1755 - "and also to the GENTILE", Worsley Version 1770, Webster's translation 1833, Murdock's translation of the Syriac 1852 - "and also to the GENTILES", Weymouth’s N.T. in Modern Speech 1912 - “upon the Jew first, and then upon the GENTILE”, Montgomery N.T. 1924, the Amplified Bible 1987 (to the Greek, GENTILE), the Good News Translation 1992, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, Contemporary English Version 1995 - “It doesn’t matter if they are Jews or GENTILES.”, the New Living Translation 1996, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, The Complete Jewish Bible 1998 - “to the Jew first, then to the GENTILE”, Today’s New International Version 2005 - “first for the Jew, then for the GENTILE”, and the NIV 2011!!!- “first for the Jew, then for THE GENTILE.”
In fact the 1984 and 2011 editions of the NIV have translated this word ελληνος as “Gentiles” in Romans 1:16, 2:9-10; 3:9 and Romans 10:12
The New International Reader’s Version 1998 actually says: “That is meant first for the Jews. It is also meant for THE NON-JEWS.” The Worldwide English N.T. 1998 has “to the Jews first, then to those who are not Jews.” and the New Life Version 1969 read “Every Jew and every person who is not a Jew”. And The Voice 2012 likewise has “first for the Jew, and next for the non-Jew”.
So, what we see from this little study is that the King James Bible is right and by no means in error for sometimes translating the Greek word ελληνος as “Gentile”. That is what the word sometimes means.
All of grace, believing the Book,
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